#261 theoldmortuary ponders

©Jenny Tsang

Spring tides and slightly warmer waters have brought a little zing to coastal sea swimming.

Kim and I had a Sunday night swim and she returned to the beach with the sensation of a stinging nettle encounter on one arm, neither of us had seen any jellyfish but that seemed the most likely cause of her discomfort.

Yesterday I was working in The Box and was having a natter with a colleague. We were talking about our weekends and were surprised to realise that while I was in the water on Sunday she was basking, like a reptile in the sun, on a boat moored not far from where Kim and I were swimming.

We were not even in the Natural History department when she flashed me the picture of the Compass Jelly Fish she had seen on her return to land. The Sunday mystery sensation explained…

©Jenny Tsang

#254 theoldmortuary ponders

Two new exhibitions at The Box yesterday had me pondering. The exhibitions themselves couldn’t be more different and yet they are both about a sense of place and our place in places

Because the Night Belongs to Us, is an exhibition about Plymouths changing nightlife. George Shaws, George Shaw is about one mans relationship with his home.

Goodness me they made me think and for anyone local to Plymouth I would recommend a visit over the summer.

George Shaw paints landscapes in Humbrol Enamel Paint. The smell in the galleries is soft and curiously nostalgic. The paintings are intimate and sometimes painfully similar to my own life experience.  Because the Night is similarly evocative, dark  and warm coloured, neon lit with snatches of music both familiar and unknown. The only thing missing in this exhibition of the underbelly of a city is sticky carpet and the smells.

Because The Night Belongs To Us. The Box

I am not from Plymouth or Coventry, the two cities that are the subject of these exhibitions but I am a wandering citizen of the worlds they represent.

George Shaw paints a council estate and the council house in which he grew up. I’ve never lived on a council estate but like many people I am deeply familiar with their architecture and the proportions and landscaping of Social housing. His painting could easily be of the corner of North East Essex, where I grew up.

©George Shaw. The Box

George Shaws painting of a tree ‘New Romantic’ could be the tree in my home village of Gosfield, which was also a serial victim of vandalism or in a different mindset, embellishments.

©George Shaw. The Box

In my village, during the seventies, and quite possibly in George’s tree zone it was relatively common to find old porn mags and beer cans in the undergrowth, curious treasure for children to find, we were amused more than harmed by it. Such things were, of course, the night life of these little patches of woodland.

Again finding a common experience in someone elses life. George depicts, in a series of drawings his childhood home emptied following the death of his last parent. The heartbreaking emptiness after the forensic clearing that most of us will have to go through. The last time you will ever see that, oh so familiar, back door of your childhood and or adulthood. The door that launched you into the world.

The back door indeed that you crept through after venturing into your version of Nightife.

A fab day working at The Box, thinking my own thoughts and sharing other peoples experiences. What better way to spend a Wednesday.

#183 theoldmortuary ponders

Yesterday was a strange one. I had arrived at work without my phone. Routines revolve around using my phone to photograph the days work rota and our little team keep contact and change plans using our phones. For me it is also my watch and camera. Photos taken at the museum also regularly create a blog. There are always moments that would make a good photo, but armed with only a pen and scraps of paper I discovered I could capture moments that I would never photograph, by making tiny, fast sketches.

The sun suddenly breaking through cloud and a fused glass window. Throwing light onto a white wall and floor.

Two girls, dressed as butterflies, arrive to visit the Natural History exhibition.

A Royal Marine Veteran steadies himself on a Barbara Hepworth sculpture after leaving a film dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Falkland War.

Sketches are almost more observational than a photograph, by taking away the reality something is gained not lost. The last two I would never dream of taking a photo, and the last one I should certainly have taken the time more officiously and reminded the gentleman not to touch the exhibit. I was very aware, in the moment, that I had no idea what was going through his head, and that the cold marble was giving him comfort.

This last one slightly gives me the chills…

#139 theoldmortuary ponders

Today was my last shift at The Box being a room steward for the Songlines Exhibition. There are still 4 more days to visit, for those of you who live locally, as the exhibition actually finishes on Sunday. Then all these wonderful paintings will be crated up for their journey to Berlin. I’ve pondered a good bit on what to write about this exhibition. Not feeling quite able to live up to the words of many very knowledgeable art critics or indeed the wise words of Dame Mary Beard, I’ve decided just to give my thumbnail response.

Songlines is a cross cultural tale, both ancient and modern, of womens care and responsibility to one another when faced with predatory male behaviour. It is a #metoo story handed down for thousands of years, woman to woman. The villain of these stories is a bad bad man. Songlines as presented here skims on some of the brutality and the accompanying texts are lighter in mood than the true depravity of the situations the women in the stories endured. All of the exhibition can be viewed by adults and children and enjoyed simply for the artwork, with or without,an age appropriate understanding of the story. But viewing all the paintings ,videos, and 3d sculptures leaves no one in any doubt of the way these stories unfold and that there will be no happy ending. For all that this collection of Australian indigenous art is a wonderful blast of colour and form, there is enough to keep most people occupied and interested for a whole day with appropriate rest and nattering stops. Throughout the exhibition the visitor is kept in touch with the artists who created the work and the portion of the exhibition which is held in the University gallery recreates the art hubs where these works were created.

Yesterday, among the hundreds of visitors, I pondered which piece of art I would miss most and came up with two choices that could easily be acommodated in my own home were I to become an International art thief. I don’t actually have the wall space for my favourite paintings.

Shape shifting vases.
Poker work Coolamon

Since I have zero talent for crime, no theft occured.

#12 theoldmortuary ponders

© Songlines The Box. The Seven Sisters.

My Wednesdays will be a real bright spot in the long,dark, drag of a British winter. Songlines a major International exhibition of the art of Australian First Nations People has opened today, Thursday, at The Box in Plymouth where I work. Yesterday was training and orientation day, like many such days in any subject I came away disorientated and aware of how little I know about the subject being taught, in this case non- western art. If those were my only thoughts on this wonderful exhibition that would be quite enough to deal with, but Songlines is not that simple. The subject matter of Songlines is both Ancient and Modern and is a thorny old subject to get my head around.

The heroines and positive energy of the Songlines in this exhibition are the seven sisters who use guile, magic and determination to protect themselves from a dangerous sexual predator who is named Wati Nyiru.

Shape Shifting and long distance travel are two of the methods used by the sisters to protect themselves. In the picture above, the seven sisters are expressed as highly decorated ceramic vases. Wati Nyiru is the malevolent vase lurking in the corner.

That is the limit of my day one understanding that I have the confidence to write down. I am in luck though. Such is the significance of this Exhibition, the BBC has made a T.V programme about it with Mary Beard . A Professor of Classics at Cambridge University, I have every confidence that Mary will shine a bright torch on this exhibition and succinctly explain all the nuances of these stories that it would take me forever to work out.

I have a date with her on Friday evening to watch her programme, Inside Culture. To be fair I often watch her either on a Friday or on catch up but never usually with the concentration that I will give this weeks programme.

Pandemic Pondering #517

©The Box. A shard from a North Devon Pottery, excavated from a Colonial site in New England

My leisure reading life and my work life are intersecting currently and in truth a little bit late. I spend a lot of time in the Mayflower Exhibition when I am working in the museum.

Both the exhibition and the book have the same constraint. Very little is known about the actual Mayflower Voyage. Difficult for Historians but good for me as the original source material is the same. The curators of the exhibition do a brilliant job of explaining and expanding the known facts and illustrate them well with actual artifacts. The 60 years following the voyage of the Mayflower is the significant part of the narrative for history and probably the least accurately portrayed by the Thanksgiving myth and beyond. As I read the book my mind is illustrated with the items and documents I spend my day with.

This makes my reading of the book jog along very nicely. Neither the exhibition nor the book allow sentimental and fictional nostalgia, the darkness and brutality of the settlement and the impact on the indigenous people is all part of the story of European Colonisation. In reality the book is not a comfortable or easy read, but I didnt expect it to be.

© The Box

Here is the book I am currently reading.

The Exhibition is at The Box Plymouth.

Pandemic Pondering #485

Friday follows Thursday. In Pandemic terms yesterday was my first working day at The Box ( Plymouths Museum, gallery and general cultural space) since the government announced Freedom Day when all legal restrictions were lifted on the English public and organisations and individuals are free to decide the level of restriction they wish to self impose.

©The Box

Suddenly a huddle of strangers is considered to be a safe option. The Box as an organisation decided not to go into full on super spreader event and restrictions remained much as they have been for many months, so the only obvious crowd were these Mayflower passengers. The museum visitors were still booked in and limited in numbers but they were, I felt more willing to engage and interact with the gallery guides and yesterday felt like the museum had a much more normal buzz about it. It helps, of course that the museum has wonderful air conditioning and we are in the midst of a heatwave.

Heatwaves are a summer thing and this morning a heatwave picture popped up on my Facebook Memories page. I wish I had remembered this image earlier in the pandemic because it is a pretty good image to demonstrate looking after yourself in a pandemic.

Better late than never.

Pandemic Pondering #339

There was a time when Thursday blogs were based on my experiences as a gallery guide at The Box. A Pandemic put a stop to that but here we are on a Thursday and this blog will be distinctly Boxlike.

Not Real World of course. Another new tech experience .

The Box Quiz

The people with all the questions and all of the answers.
Two of many categories

The low tech answer sheet.

What I can’t show you are my fellow competitors. Microsoft Teams was new to me and I had failed to download the system . In consequence only the hosts/quizmasters were visible to me eveyone else was just a disembodied voice as I was to them!

The questions were fired at us at speed, all the better to thwart googling cheats. It was a fabulous quiz and reassuring that I could actually retrieve random facts from my pandemic befuddled mind.

As it happens @theoldmortuary did quite well. Which just goes to prove that straddling the digital/ Analogue divide is entirely possible, especially if you have your comfy pants on. Or even if you don’t. No video evidence!

So thats it, another Thursday Box Tale.

Thanks to everyone who made the magic happen.

Pandemic Pondering #275

Baubles, stars and twinkle. I’ve always been a museum and gallery kind of person. When my children were small I always chose a theme to keep them interested. I used the same thought process for my shift at The Box today, hunting out Christmas decorations cunningly disguised as exhibits in the Natural History Department. The magnificent egg collection was an easy replacement for baubles.

Cushion Starfish make pretty good stars.

Twinkle was provided by beetles and minerals.

Even the mince pie gift at the end of the day seemed a little closer to a starfish than a star.

All these pictures were taken in the Mammoth Gallery. For once she was not the main event. But she is not to be ignored.

©thebox

Pandemic Pondering #260

My first day back at The Box after Lockdown 2, and my first day in a new- to-me gallery.

I could give you the official description of Port of Plymouth 1 but yesterday for an hour or so I had a unique experience. The gallery was almost empty and I had the chance to explore it unencumbered with any responsibility for the well being of visitors.

The portrait above is of an anonymous fisherman, he is the human face of the character of this gallery. The gallery yesterday represented to me the biography of the city. Port of Plymouth 1 tells the story, the basis almost, of every other gallery in the museum. The sort of thing that might be written on the back of a funeral service booklet to give an over view of  the deceaseds life. Of course Plymouth has not died and under current circumstances enjoys relatively good health.

I deliberately chose a man’s photograph because the gallery has a woman’s voice. Dawn French narrates two audio visual presentations within Port 1 and  while you are in the space you are never very far away from her voice. This is a brilliant piece of gender balance because inevitably Port 1 is for the most part a man’s world. Not because women played no part in the history of Plymouth but because history has traditionally sidelined women’s contribution. It is only really the 20 th Century exhibits that begin to truly reflect the importance of women to the city.

©The Box

As you enter Port of Plymouth 1 there is a massive 3D screen showing a film presentation of the developmental history of  Plymouth. The film is one of the exhibits narrated by Dawn French. Currently with Covid-19 restrictions only about twelve people can view it at any one time, with so few people it is hard to gauge the impact but later in my morning a whole school group of about 40 watched it together and the impact on them as a large group was remarkable, when the museum can open as normal this will be a memorable group activity.

@theoldmortuary we are in the process of moving home. It was a little bit strange to view our proposed new location as history evolved over it and  in the WW2 era bombs landed very close.

©The Box
©The Box

Ambient Lighting in Port of Plymouth 1 is subdued but the lighting of each exhibit is so beautifully done that even when it is full of people ( a future aspiration) it is really easy to concentrate and understand the significance of each exhibit.

One historic artifact was simple but poignant.

©The Box

The Falklands Conflict left a big mark on the recentish memory of Plymouth

©The Box

This is the point that pondering has to stop, just like the Dockyard Gate photo above, the visitors started to arrive. There is loads more to talk about but visitor safety and smiling took over my time.